In the summer months, high ticket prices dissuade Irish emigrants and visitors from journeying to Ireland. Many of Ireland’s six million yearly visitors schedule flights from June to August and a high percentage of those come from the U.S.
At press time, a round-trip ticket from New York City’s JFK Airport to Shannon Airport costs approximately $2,200, and to Dublin Airport costs approximately $1,500. And it’s nearly the same price from Boston.
“I am not going home to Ireland this summer. It’s too expensive this time of year,” says Kathy McDermott, an Irish mother. “For me just to buy two tickets to Ireland, it would cost more than an entire week in Long Beach Island (a resort community in New Jersey), all expenses paid, for a family of four.”
Peter Kelly, an Irish laborer, says, “A buddy of mine needed to go back home for family reasons. When it was all said and done, he ended up paying over three [thousand dollars] on tickets.”
Ireland’s three international airline carriers – Aer Lingus, Delta Airlines and United Airlines – attribute the increase primarily to rising fuel costs.
In fact, Aer Lingus CEO Christoph Mueller lauded his company’s 2011 performance amid “a difficult backdrop of non-controllable fuel price inflation, increased airport charges and challenging demand conditions in our primary markets.”
However, fuel surcharges – fees that allow airline carriers to compensate for fuel price inflation – have risen twice as fast as fuel prices in the last year. According to a study by corporate travel management company Carson Wagonlit Travel, airline carriers have not reduced fuel surcharges since 2009, despite drops in fuel prices over that time.
Norman Crampton, a Co. Leitrim native and operator of Tara Travel in Yonkers, NY, explains that airline carriers engage in a risky procedure known as fuel hedging, whereby a fixed cost reduces their exposure to potentially volatile fuel costs.
“Every carrier engages in fuel hedging, but they don’t reveal the hedge price to the public,” says Crampton. “If the market dictates a fuel price lower than the hedge price, the airline could lose money.”
Dympna Tully, a Co. Cavan native and operator of Tully Travel in Yonkers, NY, believes that “less competition and fewer flights” encourage high ticket prices.
In the past, several airline carriers competed for transatlantic dominion, including: American Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Pan American World Airways and Trans World Airlines. Due to financial difficulties or merger opportunities, however, only three carriers currently travel between Ireland and the U.S.
In June, another carrier entered the fray – unofficially.
Discount-airline Ryanair, led by CEO Michael O’Leary, has launched three bids to acquire Ireland’s flag carrier, Aer Lingus. Supporters contend that the acquisition would lower ticket prices, given Ryanair’s tendency for cheap labor and basic accommodations.
“I wouldn’t mind paying a lower fee if it meant a lower standard of service,” says Danny C., an Irish immigrant. “As long as Ryanair can get me there, I’m okay with it. I booked four tickets a few months back, and they cost me $3,600.”
Tommy G., an Irish-American bus driver, agrees. He says, “A lot of people want Ryanair to come in and take over. The fares are just too expensive, and something’s got to change.”
Critics contend that a takeover would negatively affect the airline carrier’s customer relations and Ireland’s tourism and airline industries.
“Social-service roots do not exist in Ryanair,” says Crampton. “Ireland is liable to become a stop rather than a destination.”
Tully adds, “Ryanair may offer low ticket prices, but they make up for it in other fees. If you haven’t done online check-in when you arrive at the airport, they’ll charge you at the front desk.”
Sarah O’Leary, from Co. Kerry, was planning all year to visit Ireland for a long weekend in August to attend her parents' 50th wedding anniversary, but the cost of the flight home to Ireland has prevented her from going.
“I just couldn’t justify spending over a grand on a flight or four grand for myself, my husband and two kids, for a weekend. We work hard for our money and that would be a good chunk out of the little bit of savings we have so I have to send a bunch of flowers, a few dinner vouchers and my apologies,” said O’Leary.
So is there any way to secure a lower price ticket for the summer months? Tully advises that any potential visitor to Ireland “book the tickets as soon as possible” in order to obtain lower ticket prices and to maximize a budget.
Where does the term “the luck of the Irish” come from?